Leslie Miller and Hillary Morse are Bauler Park neighbors who say the new pickleball courts take away space from children. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

OLD TOWN — A conflict between pickleball players and neighboring parents has been brewing in Old Town since three courts were painted onto the concrete slab at Bauler Park in 2021.

Parents say the courts were installed at Bauler Park with no community input and are calling for them to be removed, saying disputes over who should use the area and when have led to heated exchanges between the pickleball players and families who also use the park, 501 W. Wisconsin St.

Meanwhile, a group of pickleball players says the parents have antagonized players even during the hours pickleball is allowed at the park.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

As of Wednesday, pickleball is only allowed at Bauler Park 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, said Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons. Previously, players were allowed to use the courts noon-2 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

“The Chicago Park District is committed to balancing the needs and interests of the community surrounding Bauler Park, which includes a plan for dedicated space and times for pickleball while maintaining open space for other recreational activities,” Lemons said.

The Park District is also looking to install more courts across Chicago and announced a plan last fall to build 50 pickleball courts by 2025, bringing the city’s pickleball court count to more than 100, Lemons said.

“With the exception of these designated times, the space will remain open for other recreational activities during normal park hours,” Lemons said. “The Park District will continue to work with the community to identify additional locations to support the sport.”

The allowed pickleball hours at Bauler Park were adjusted for a second time — this time getting rid of evening play. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

But Leslie Miller and Hillary Morse, who use Bauler Park with their families, said the Park District’s efforts to reduce pickleball hours have not been enough. Players use them outside designated hours, leading to tensions with families — so they want all three courts removed to prevent those issues, they said.

Miller said pickleball players have been intimidating kids off of the concrete so they can set up their pickleball nets and start playing.

In some cases, people have been called “a–hole,” yelled at in front of children and used their paddle to scoot children out of the way, Miller said. The players have also disregarded the rule against playing pickleball on weekends, she said.

“We want all three courts removed simply because it has been demonstrated that the rules are not followed and it’s not going to work,” Miller said. “My goal is to have the Park District remove the courts before spring gets here because things could get even more heated than they already are.”

Morse said the courts should be removed because they were installed “without any community involvement.”

“All of a sudden they were just up, and I don’t think it was ill-intentioned by any means. But if there was community involvement, these problems could have been addressed,” Morse said. “The heart of the matter is they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Miller started an online petition to “save Chicago’s Bauler Park from the pickleball takeover.” It has collected more than 700 signatures.

Miller’s petition was created after pickleball player Lisa Davis created her own petition to “save pickleball at Chicago’s Bauler Park.” It also has more than 700 signatures.

Lisa Davis, a pickleball player who created a petition to keep the courts at Bauler Park. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Davis uses Bauler Park’s pickleball courts with a group of players who coordinate through the Team Reach app, which is popular among pickleball players in Chicago to organize games, she said.

Davis said there was no conflict over the pickleball courts until parents started “creating the issue” by sending their children onto the court during games and harassing players.

“We started to notice we would be playing during an allowed time on an allowed day, and parents were literally pointing at their kids to go run onto our courts,” Davis said. “Of course we stopped playing because we didn’t want to hit the kids with the ball, but they instigated trouble. We weren’t bothering anybody.”

Davis said no one in her group of players has cursed at children, yelled or shooed them away.

“Never once did I witness that from our group,” Davis said. “I can’t talk about that with other players, but never our group. We always stopped play.”

Allowing pickleball in Bauler Park also brings benefits to the neighborhood, Davis said.

“Especially for older people who maybe saw a lot of isolation in COVID, and now they can go out and socialize and exercise,” Davis said. “We’ve built a strong, tight-knit community. Don’t the parents want that? Isn’t community about sharing space and give and take?”

Doug Myers, who lives across the street from Bauler Park and plays with Davis’ group, said it’s “unfair” players aren’t welcomed by other people who use the park.

Myers started playing pickleball after retiring last year, picking it up from people who play at Bauler, he said.

“It’s a great game and very social, so it’s been a great way to meet neighbors and all that good stuff,” Myers said. “I just think it’s unfair to be treated like this. There’s plenty of room for all of us.”

Dana Ringer, president of the Bauler Park Advisory Council, said the board has worked with the Park District to seek community input since the courts were installed, including a community meeting held last fall and efforts to restrict pickleball hours at the park.

“But there’s still been some challenges, a little bit of confusion about the hours and conflict about who gets the space when,” Ringer said. “It’s come to a head over the summer and now.”

The advisory council has been trying to bring the neighbors and pickleball players together to come to an agreement on the concrete slab’s use, Ringer said.

“Hopefully we’ll have more of a compromise situation and more clarity for everyone,” Ringer said.

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